Sunday, February 12, 2006

Officer, Are You For Real?

A traffic cop waved his black-and-white baton signaling the car behind us to pull over. I was in a taxi heading toward the outskirts of the city. Snow piled high along our route was aglow in the late afternoon sun.

"Ooh-rah! So glad we didn't get pulled over!" I exclaimed in Russian.

The driver glanced at me in his rearview mirror and nodded. "All they want is money."

I'd heard that before but I wasn't going to be the first to bring it up.

"How much do they want?" I probed.

"Oh, around 500 rubles for a documents violation and maybe 150 for something minor." The driver's brown eyes glanced toward me in the mirror.

"That's outragous! If police in the States did that, it would be a major scandal!"

"Well, this way the fine is lower and the driver can pay it then and there. Whereas with an official ticket, the driver would have to stand in several long lines to pay it and the fine would be higher. Plus this way, the officer makes some money too."

"Well our system is different. We just write out a check and mail it in with the ticket. It's quick and easy. But it's not cheap. " (Or so I've heard. Ha-ha!)

"Well, here in Russia we have to pay in cash and in person."

Not all Russian traffic cops can be bribed, I've learned. Although I get around on public transport as do most folks. If I did have a car, I imagine that I might do exactly what some other drivers have done when they have neared a cop with baton pointed at them: Pull over immediately, gather documents and wallet and approach the officer with trepidation. Only to discover that he is a life-size, plastic mock-up, a law enforcement decoy. Such an Officer Plastic comes with a two-dimensional police car, a speed gun and the standard black-and-white baton. Although he's plastic, he's no dummy. He manages to bring traffic to a crawl.

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